The physiology of predator stress in free-ranging prey




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M.J. Sheriff, C.J. Krebs & R. Boonstra (2009) The sensitive hare: sublethal effects of predator stress on reproduction in snowshoe hares. Journal of Animal Ecology, 78, 1249–1258.

Ecologists have only begun to understand the physiological mechanisms underlying individual- and population-level responses of prey- to predator-related stress. Sheriff, Krebs and Boonstra advance this field by providing evidence that predator-induced increases in glucorticoid concentrations in wild female snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) impact both litter size and offspring condition. They hypothesize that the glucocorticoid-mediated effects on reproduction provides an adaptive benefit: mothers ‘programming’ their offspring to be timid and risk-averse in high-risk environments should increase their survival probability. This research illuminates the connection between stress physiology and population-level changes and demonstrates the surprisingly far-reaching impact of predation risk.